Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Guerlain Parure: fragrance review and history

"She had no gowns, no jewels, nothing. She only loved that, she felt made for that. She had such a desire to please, to be envied, to be seductive and sophisticated..."
~Guy de Maupassant La Parure

Much like Madame Loisel, the wife of a civil servant in Guy de Maupassant's novelette, who wants to live the good life, Parure by Guerlain (1975) stands as a precious commodity to be cherished; an ornament that lifts its wearer beyond the mundane and "l'air pauvre au millieu de femmes riches" (looking poor among rich women).
Parure radiates an outgoing feeling of luxury and refinement. One doesn't wear Parure to communicate their feelings, as they would with Chant d'Arômes or Vol de Nuit; or to entangle someone in a seductive web in the manner of Shalimar; but instead one wears Parure to show one's self and to be adored for everything she represents. It's therefore not an accident that it is the signature scent of Kim Catrall, the glamazonian and sexually uninhibited Samantha in Sex & the City, who upon hearing news of its discontinuation declared she has bought "every available bottle on earth" (clearly not, but it shows how loyal a following Parure produces).
In the tale by Maupassant, Madame Loisel borrows the coveted parure jewels from her rich acquaintance Madame Forestier to wear at a grand ball in which she has a truly memorable time but loses the necklace in the process. Ashamed to admit the truth to her friend, she is forced to buy a replacement and thus enter in heavy debt that will entail years of sacrifice and toil. Years later, as the two women meet on the street by chance, the moment of truth comes as Madame Loisel finally admits the circumstances, yet she hears crestfallen that the necklace was made of paste and not diamonds and therefore all her sacrifices to get herself out of the colossal debt had been unnecessary... Contrary to the above story, Parure glistens with the real shine of precious essences and imaginative artistry.

Parure etymologically comes from the Old French, meaning adornment, from the verb parer: to adorn, to prepare. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, parure thus denotes "a matched set of jewelry consisting of such pieces as earrings, bracelet, brooch, necklace, and ring". In fact the complicated suite might include such diverse items such as a necklace, a comb, a tiara, a diadem, a bandeau, a pair of bracelets, pins, rings, drop earrings or cluster-stud earrings, a brooch and even a belt clasp to be worn over an evening gown. Parures rose in popularity from the 17th century onwards in Europe and were mainly reserved for royalty and the really rich, denoting status, strength and the political power of its wearers. Napoléon loved lavishing these gem suites on Joséphine, for her to wear at state functions, while he gave similar sets to his second wife, Marie-Louise, later on. Court members and the higher social ranks vied for the best jewelers with orders for them to create elaborate and original suites that had the clever and intricate characteristic of modularity so that they could be remade into more fashionable, au courant jewels. Therefore necklaces could be worn intact or disassembled into bracelets, pendants, hair ornaments or brooches by incorporating smart interchangeable components and locking systems.

Ever since Guerlain had created the ultimate fruity chypre in the guise of the mysterious Mitsouko in 1919, they sought to create another memorable chypre for their customers. Jean Paul Guerlain, heartned by the success of Chant d'Arômes (1962) and Chamade (1969), tried to accomplish just that in 1975 with Parure. Although Guerlain themselves classify the scent under "floral chypre", Parure is a porthole into fruity chypres with a polished woodfloor background that according to Luca Turin evoke an oriental mood more than anything.

Guerlain's Parure opens on an effusive and noble interlay of bright and dark elements of golden bergamot and sharp greens that soon cede to the spicy notes in its heart that recall the cinnamon touch (due to styrax) that appears in Mitsouko as well. The ripeness of plummy goodness almost as if steeped in rum (comparable to the damascones in Lutens' Bois et Fruits or Feminité du Bois by Shiseido) evokes spring gatherings in stately houses: The floors polished to a shiny, waxy sheen, the curtains of damask draw;, vases full of narcotic lilacs; bright lights illuminating French windows that give way to a majestic view of the woods across the green lawn. Balsamic notes finish off the dinner as if a baba au rhum laced with delicate vanilla pods extract is being savoured while the gentlemen of the company are smoking cigars in the antecedent chamber.
Although Parure is a very radiant, self-confident composition that is not difficult to wear due to its smooth and lush generosity of nature, I find myself drawn more to the mysterious contemplation and sadness of Mitsouko. Those who find the latter hard to tame, full of sharp impediments however, might have better luck with the former. The eau de toilette of Parure is exceptionally lasting as well, especially in the vintage formula.

Notes for Guerlain Parure
Top: bergamot, clary sage, galbanum
Middle: plum, lilac, rose, jasmine
Base: oakmoss, earthy forest notes, spices, vetiver, styrax, Peru balsam, wood

The original Parure extrait de parfum flacon, made by sculptor Robert Granai, took pride of place among the most luxurious of the Guerlain presentations: A round bottle topped by a 'slightly outrageous stopper' (per Jean Paul Guerlain), a delicate dentelle of crystal the inspiration behind which was a glowing sea-view sunset. The Eau de Cologne concentration circulated in the classic "disk" bottles with the pyramidal stopper. Later on, the Eau de Toilette concentration was bottled in simpler architectural flacons with horizontal ribbing, a classical boule diaphanous stopper and a round red and orange label with the name Parure on the body, encased in a box with geometric designs in matching colours. A reformulation that skewed the scent was implemented when the scent was rebottled in the classic "bee" flacons some years ago, but in comparison to the older eau de toilette it is of inferior quality.
In the end Parure was discontinued by Guerlain altogether some years ago due to low demand and is sometimes found online in auctions or at shops with old stock. Instead Guerlain decided to re-use the glorious, copyrighted name for a range of their makeup items. Let's hope that as long as the keep property of that name, there is some chance that the fragrance might be resurrected.

A sample of vintage Parure will be given to a lucky reader to experience this discontinued fragrance! State your interest.

Ad pic through parfum de pub. Bottle pics through Fragrantica and Ebay. Angelina Jolie photo from the Oliver Stone film Alexander.


  1. You have a way of making everything sound so mesmerizing! I would love to try vintage Parure, of course, after reading your paean to it (I can never resist a chypre), so please put my name in the draw.

  2. I was fortunate enough to try this in Liberty who still had bottles up to a year or two ago- but it was the reformulated version. Even so I thought it was magnificent and extremely elegant actually.

    Although I am a fan of having lots of scents (obviously!) this is the sort of scent that could win you over to using it and no other, it's very distinctive and I think you would always feel like 'you' in it. I'm not surprised Kim Catrall stockpiled it- she has good taste.

    I loved the back story by the way! The story about losing the paste jewels and paying for new real ones sounds very good.

    Please can I be included? Would love to try the real vintage thing.

  3. Anonymous14:59

    I have been loving your in-depth perfume commentary; it fills a void left by Bois de Jasmin as Victoria has become busy in her perfume career over the last couple of years. I would love to be entered in the draw for Parure; that is a Guerlain I haven't tried yet. Guerlain is my favorite perfume house.


  4. Anonymous16:50

    Please enter my name in the drawing-- your post has convinced me that I need to try yet another discontinued fragrance!

  5. I would liove to try a sampe of this and compare it to Mitsouko.

  6. Such a lovely review. This seems so mysterious yet comforting. Please enter me into the draw. Have a great day ~~~ dea

  7. What a shame this marvelous fragrance has been discontinued.

    Please enter me in the drawing.

    Thank you!

  8. I really, really adore that parfum flacon, and wish it were still around to buy, even though, since I got into perfume after it's discontinuation, I never got to sniff it. Oh well, just one more thing not to blow the rent on! ; )

  9. maitreyi197822:54

    I read the necklace story years ago, and found it depressing. How bad is the reformulation in the bee bottle? Is it Ma Griffe bad, or just not as good as the original, but still lovely? Oh, and please enter me in the drawing. Thanks!

  10. Rappleyea23:31

    Yet another wonderful review! This is one Guerlain that I have never gotten to try, and of course would love to! I think you could even make Arden's Sunflowers sound good! LOL! (Apologies to Sunflowers lovers.)

  11. Thank you for yet another fascinating piece... I would love to smell Parure; please enter me in the draw!

  12. I would like it!

  13. First of all, that vintage bottle gets closer to my own va-voom! pulse. Second, say "vintage Guerlain," and my pulse will beat a little faster. Put pulse + pulse together...and you get "please, enter my name as well!" :)

  14. Elizabeth05:23

    Vintage Parure? *swoons* Please include me in the drawing!

  15. Oh Hi again,,I would love tonwin a saMple of th precious Parure ! why does Guerlain discontinue these treasures ?
    I too miss Bois de Jasmin. 'your writing is beautiful just like hers !Thank You for this heavely review --

  16. Hello, dear E -- please enter me in the drawing. I'd love to experience the vintage Parure. I have some samples, but suspect they are all of the reformulated one... I love the plumminess of Parure, in any case.

  17. Oh, and please enter me into the draw. I entirely forgot to ask!

  18. Oh Helg - this is what I wore when I was dating my husband so many years ago and this is what makes me so Mad at Guerlain (you know how mad I get at them) I have a tiny bit left in the bee bottle I bought a few years ago . If only I bought more bottles!!! I never had the money when I was young to buy the parfum - Ooooh the parfum would have been heavenly. Helg if you ever come across a Guerlain mover and shaker - tell them to re-issue Parure pronto!!! I adore this scent.I had it in that circle bottle too. I am crying now Helg!

  19. R,

    you flatter me! It's a lovely fragrance so it will be a pleasure to enter you in the draw.

  20. K,

    isn't it glorious? Even reformulated its pedigree shows. And who could argue that Kim Catrall shows great taste for having such a distinctive signature scent? (especially when so many famous people like so many run-of-the-mill things :/ )
    Good luck then!

    Glad you liked the Maupassant La Parure story! It's highly ironic and poignant. :-)

  21. Marsi,

    thanks for stopping by and commenting in such generous terms. Hope to see you here frequently, so we can exchange views on this favourite of ours house and on other aspects of perfumery as well.

    Of course you're included in the draw for a Parure sample! Hope you like it.

    Beaucoup d'amitiés à toi aussi :-)

  22. Gretchen,

    I know the pain of trying discontinued fragrances but who knows? If enough people get to know this one they might capitulate to demand and re-issue it (hopefully in its former glory and in not extravagant exclusive bottles!)
    You're in!

  23. Krista,

    thanks for stopping by and hope to see you here again. It's quite close to Mitsouko, and yet different. It's worth comparing, to be sure.
    Good luck!

  24. Thank you for the compliment Dea and welcome to Perfume Shrine. I hope you get a chance to try it out for yourself: You're in!

  25. VN,

    thanks for commenting and you're included. I always felt that this is an approachable chypre in their catalogue which should have stayed. Especially when more mediocre things circulate (Elixirs Charnels, I am talking to you! LOL)

  26. Dain,

    that crystal flacon is exquisite, truly. I adore the design! It's both luxurious and tasteful.
    Dicontinued fragrances unfortunately are painful to contemplate, aren't they...

  27. M,

    I agree that the Maupassant story has a certain sadness to it: all that work for nothing! Only that memory of that night remaining...(makes one wonder just how many times we pose greater -non monetary- value into something/someone that isn't that valueable to begin with)

    Luckily, no the reformulation of Parure wasn't as bad as Ma Griffe (which altered it so much) or Cabochard (even worse!). It still smells radiant and nice in the bee bottle, although there seems to be some detachment, a little "chill" in there (it's so hard to put this into something tangible) that I hadn't experienced in the previous batches.

    You're included!

  28. R,

    LOL!! You make me blush (and feel a little guilty too!) Perish the thought!

    Good luck in the draw!

  29. Natalie,

    you're very welcome and hope you win!

  30. K,

    yes, I seriously think you would!
    Good luck!

  31. S,

    such wit! You put it in so much better words than I ever could!
    Yes, it's a glorious flacon and a very good fragrance as well (can't knock that!) So, how could I leave you out? :-)

  32. Elizabeth,

    of course I have included you! :-)

  33. Madelyn,

    thank you for being so complimentary and you're welcome for the review (best of luck in the draw!). I hope to eventually review all of those Guerlains which have been in circulation for a continued period of time, even the very old; it seems I have amassed many rare vintages already, so I'm hopeful! ;-)
    I do hope they will re-issue more frags of their back catalogue. Ode had been supposedly ready to launch in 2007, but it wasn't :/

  34. J,

    of course you're in! I like Parure's fruitiness as well: there is something quite gourmand about it, very succulent.

  35. D,

    of course honey, don't worry. Best of luck!

  36. M,

    what a GORGEOUS dating scent and story!!! It must have made quite an impression!
    You're lucky to have experienced it in the round bottle. I think you could locate some bee bottles in some older stock carrying shops or sites: it never hurts to ask, at any rate!

    Alas, I had asked someone I am connected with there about it and they responded they axed it because nobody knew it as well as Mitsouko (that one has a more evocative "story" behind it as well), nor was it well-known enough even among cognoscenti (this is where I blame us, perfume writers as well). I will try to breach the issue once more, though, promise ;-)

  37. Oh and I am leaving the draw open till the rest of the week, seeing it proved so popular, so that everyone who wants to participate gets atheir chance.

  38. LianH12:07

    That is a great tale and a little sad

  39. Anonymous13:45

    Dear E no need to include me in the draw since I have already benefited from your kind generosity when I won a sample about a year ago :-) I love this one. It is a sharper fruity chypre than Mitsouko and very elegant, very French. Love plum notes in a fragrance. I look out for it every now and again on fleabay etc but the last time I saw it was in the bee bottle in Roja Dove. I might just have to cave if it's still there the next time I go. For posterity's sake, you understand ;-) donanicola

  40. My mother used this perfume when she was young...I looked for it eveywhere!! I'd love to bring back memories...
    so please put my name in the draw.
    Merci beaucoup!
    great blog, apropo;)

  41. Love, love, love this fragrance and your most beautiful review of it! No need to put me in the draw -- just wanted to thank you for reviewing this one!

  42. Lian,

    yeah, isn't it? I thought it fitted ;-)
    Welcome to Perfume Shrine.

  43. N,

    oh honey, I am so happy you have liked it! It's not a bad idea to get even a bee bottle of it, if one can't find older juice. It's superior to many other things on the market. ;-)

  44. R,

    thanks for chimming in and what a glorious fragrance you mother chose! I hope you win and the memories come in a flood.
    You're in!

  45. S,

    you're so kind, thank you for the support, I appreciate it very much.
    Glad I provided enjoyment :-))

  46. Anonymous16:00

    hi lunarose here......indicating interest in the sample draw! i have no idea how you are able to pack so much unique and interesting information into this blog at the rate you do - i can barely keep up! thank you, mrs. rose

  47. I'd love to try a sample :)

  48. Oh, this sounds highly delectable! Do please count me in.

  49. joe80506:56

    Assuming you have not closed the eligibility, I would love to have a chance to win -- for some reason I have been more curious about Parure than any of the other classic Guerlains. Perhaps because I love a hint of plum in anything.

    Thank you for this nice history -- even if I don't win, I will need to find a sample of Parure some day.

  50. stella p09:20

    I like so much the reviews there you place a perfume in its historical context, and add curiosities connected with its many aspects. Thank you!
    I would very much like to be entered in this draw, as the idea of trying a perfume that in a way combines features of Mitsouko and Feminité du Bois, both of which I enjoy much to wear, seems tempting indeed! :)
    The history about Parure was also nice to read (would have liked to find a blog about jewellery that has the same approach to that field, as you to perfume)

  51. Ben A19:03

    I never say "no" to a sample of a Guerlain chypre. Please count me in the drawing!

  52. It is a shame that Guerlain discontinued Parure! On the other hand it is the typical scent that gets re-introduced in the Les Parisiennes line, so it wouldn't surprise me at all if it appears again in the near future. Count me in for the sample, if it is not too late.

  53. Lunarose,

    "i have no idea how you are able to pack so much unique and interesting information into this blog at the rate you do - i can barely keep up!">this's got to be the best compliment ever :-)
    Thank you!

    Best of luck!

  54. Deanna,

    welcome and you're included :-)

  55. A,

    it's indeed a very "round", radiant fragrance, very worth sampling. You're in the draw!

  56. Joe,

    glad it piqued your already heightened interest. I am wishing you best of luck!

  57. S,

    awww...you're so generous, honey, thank you :-)
    (and have I mentioned I love jewellery as well?!)
    I am counting you in!

  58. Ben,

    wise thought! Of course I've included you.

  59. L,

    oh gosh, don't give them any IDEAS!!! (It's enough they did this to Liu).

    Not too late, I am leaving this open till the end of the week and results will be announced next week. You're in!

  60. Liu I can understand, but Mayotte...? C'mon, this got to be the worst Guerlain creation ever. (Apologize to all the Mayotte fans out there.)

  61. I've loved and worn Parure forever (or so it seems!) Please enter me in your drawing if it's not too late, and if it is, I still thank you for bringing this lovely scent to the attention of so many perfume aficionados. And thanks to all who posted ideas on where to find some more Parure when my supply runs out. Perhaps I won't need to go into withdrawal after all!

  62. Lillith,

    you're very welcome and I am glad that Parure is resonating so much with so many. I know people at Guerlain have been reading us so I do hope that the criticism is not going unnoticed ;-)
    You're included, you're the last one too, so best of luck!
    I will be announcing the winner shortly.

  63. Felipe03:30

    I like this one too:-)
    I love Kim Catrall and Chypres (lol)
    Please, put my name in the hat?
    Thank you.

  64. Felipe03:00

    Sorry, the correct name is Kim Cattrall.

  65. Anonymous23:18

    My husband bought me the original version while on a mission in the AF. It is the only scent he will let me wear. Seriously, have NEVER worn anything else for 28 years. After being in the military 29 years and purchasing it wherever he could find it worldwide we were saddened to find out only the cologne is available last time he tried. It just isn't the same. Tried Mitsuko but he wasn't going for it. Please help out.

  66. Chris G15:38

    Beautiful description! Please enter me in the draw - thanks!
    Chris G

  67. I am desperate to find a bottle of Parure as a birthday present. Any hints of where to find it would be most appreciated. Please include me in the draw. A great article. Thanks


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